Anyone can develop a hernia—they're a common medical condition that happens in both men and women. A hernia is a hole in the abdominal wall. Sometimes underlying tissue or part of an organ or the intestines gets caught in that hole. Think of a sweater caught in a zipper—a small amount of fabric gets caught between the zipper teeth and can be at least annoying and at most damage your sweater. 

The basics of a hernia are the same for everyone, but there are some differences between hernias in women and men. 

What types of hernias do women encounter more often than men? 

Hernias occur most often in the abdomen and groin. In men, they most often show up in the groin area, called inguinal hernias. In women, hernias can occur in the groin as well, but they also show up in the upper thigh (femoral hernias), near the belly button (umbilical hernias), or near an incision site (incisional hernias). Additionally, women more often suffer from pelvic floor hernias. 

What are some causes of hernias in women? 

Common causes of hernias in both men and women include: 

  • lifting heavy objects 
  • chronic sneezing (as with allergies) or coughing 
  • surgery 
  • obesity 
  • chronic constipation 
  • connective tissue disorders 

In women, pregnancy, childbirth, and hormonal changes can increase the risk of developing hernias. As the uterus expands with the growth of the baby, the abdominal wall can become weaker from the increased pressure. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can weaken the connective tissue. 

What are the symptoms of hernias in women? 

Hernias in women are typically more subtle than in men—for example, women may not experience a visible bulge, which is commonly found in hernias with men. Instead, women tend to have hernias that are deeper in the body and smaller, and therefore less noticeable to the eye. A woman may experience aching or sharp pains or a burning sensation at the site of the hernia, along with pain or discomfort that increases with activity. As hernias in women tend to occur in the pelvic floor or groin, they're often mistaken as gynecological issues, which can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment. 

How are hernias diagnosed? 

Hernias are often first diagnosed with a physical exam from a doctor. The doctor may ask a patient to sit, stand or move parts of the body to attempt to feel the hernia if it is not immediately visible. The doctor may also order imaging tests, such as a CT scan or ultrasound, to determine if pain or discomfort is attributed to a hernia. 

Once diagnosed, hernias can either be left alone as long as they do not impact the quality of life, or surgery can be performed to fix the hernia and help the patient return to a normal quality of life.

Can hernias be prevented? 

Hernias cannot completely be prevented, but there are steps that you can take to help lower your risk of developing a hernia. 

Maintain a healthy weight 

Excess abdominal fat can strain the muscles in the abdomen, making them weaker and more susceptible to hernias. 

Strengthen the core muscles 

Adding core muscle exercises to your daily routine can help strengthen the abdominal wall. Activities like Pilates or yoga are great for gentle core exercise—no need to do a lot of crunches or sit ups. Strengthening these muscles can also help with posture and lower back pain. 

Avoid heavy lifting, especially while pregnant 

If you have to lift heavy items, try to get assistance. When lifting, make sure to practice good lifting form. 

Don't wait to receive medical attention 

If you experience symptoms of a hernia, such as groin or abdominal pain, swelling, or a bulge, seek medical care as soon as possible to prevent complications. 

At Newport Hospital, our board-certified general surgeons can treat your hernia and get you back to living your life as quickly as possible. For more tips on healthy living, visit the Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

James D. Valente, MD

Dr. James Valente is a board-certified general surgeon affiliated with Newport Hospital. He received his medical degree from the Tufts University School of Medicine, and completed his residency at Morristown Memorial Hospital in Morristown, New Jersey.